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The Doors of Derry

Georgian-Style Doors of Derry

Everybody loves the Georgian Houses

It seems like certain styles never go out of fashion. Last year Georgian-style houses topped a poll of the most popular home styles. I suspect that people like scale of the house as well as the the pillars and generous sized windows. Nothing says lord of the manor like a couple of pillars!

Georgian-Style New Build
Georgian-Style New Build


Location of Derry-Londonderry

Some of the best examples of Georgian architecture can be found in the biggest cities of 18th century such as Edinburgh, Bath and Dublin and London, and to a lesser extent York and Bristol. Dublin in particular is famous for its very grand Georgian doorways  and square. There are plenty of examples of Georgian buildings in other Irish cities such as  Limerick, Cork, Galway, Derry and Belfast.

I have been delighted to discover that Derry has plenty of its own Geogian-style doorways, if you know where to look for them.  Like many cities, Derry has been rebuilt and remodelled by successive generations but it’s Georgian architectural past survives in several places.

Not sure what Georgian era is? Think Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” with the ladies wearing Empire Line dresses and Gentlemen in breaches in tall hats. There were four kings called George who lived and reigned from 1714-1837. Its is also sometimes known as Regency era, after George Prince Regent, who took over the crown from his father George III, who expereience prolonged bouts of madness.

Derry’s Georgian-style building fall into two groups. The first were built within the walled city in the 18th century, in the Georgian era. There was also a later burst of building in the first half of the 19th century, outside the city walls, that continued in the Georgian style of building.

Generally speaking the Georgian-style of architecture is marked by symmetry and proportions based on the classical architecture of Greece and Rome, as revived in Renaissance architecture. They were designed using the “golden ratio,” a mathematical ratio that’s commonly found in nature and fine art. Buildings designed with the golden ratio in mind have graceful proportions, balance, and symmetry.

Golden Ratio in Beautifully Proportioned Classical Georgian-Architecture
Golden Ratio in Beautifully Proportioned Classical Georgian-Architecture


Ornament is also normally in the classical tradition, but typically restrained, and sometimes almost completely absent on the exterior; hence an unfussy appearance.

Home of Georgian Berkley, Dean of Derry
Home of George Berkeley, the Philosopher who was Dean of Derry in 1723-5 (and later a slave owner) – classic Georgian architecture in action.


Map of Conservation Area
Location of Georgain Style Buildings (also Conservation Area)

Georgian Buildings within the Walled City 

Derry-Londonderry is the only completely walled city in Ireland and one of the finest in Europe. The buildings within the walled city were largely rebuilt in the 18th century and many of its fine Georgian-style houses still survive there. The population of the city was growing fast, from about 2,850 in to 1706 to over 9,000 at the end of the century.  This area, when first built, would have been for houses of the well-to-do Protestant merchants of the city. These men would have been involved in the export and import of goods such as linen and agricultural produce in the city through the nearby area of the quay. In 1699 the English parliament banned the export of woollen goods from Ireland. This was to protect to English woollen trade and so farmers and the merchants of Ulster concentrated instead on Linen. Thus, from about 1750 a thriving linen industry grew up in Derry.


Derry in 19th Century: From Discover Derry
View of Derry and its new bridge in early 19th Century: From Discover Derry


Derry was quite an important port in Ireland at that time (it was the 5th biggest in Ireland). Derry’s trade with Britain was growing fast at this time. It also traded linen cloth with North America (principally to Pennslyvannia) and the West Indies. Derry was also one of the most important emirgration ports to North America. Yet, until the end of the 18th century, there was only a ferry across the River Foyle. In 1789-91 a wooden bridge was built, largely at the behest of Bishop Hervey (Church of Ireland). Contrary to the claims of the bishop’s critics, who said the widely-travelled  Hervey only wanted a bridge for his own covenience; the new bridge greatly boosted trade and industry in Derry.

The most defining characteristic of a Georgian-style home is symmetry.
Types of Georgian Town houses


Broadly speaking, the surviving Georgian houses within the walled city are located in two areas; along Shipquay Street, which leads down from the Diamond towards the Foyle and the old quayside, and also in the area around St Columb’s Cathedral.

The defining characteristic of a Georgian house is symmetry. I like the style of these spacious terrace houses.  I find the clean lines of the tall buildings very pleasing. I particularly enjoy the columns either side of the doorways, echoing the Greek and Roman temples that inspired their design. I also like the generously wide panelled wooden doorways, sometimes painted in bright colours; but usually in black or red. The original door knockers and bell-pulls some time survive too.

Georgian Doorways of Derry

A Geogian doorway on Shipquay Street built c. 1760 – 1779 (with steps)

There were cellars and attics for servants to live in. The family usually lived on the first and second floors, with perhaps a business office on the ground floor.

House on Shipquay Street - you can see the basement under the stairs
Very grand house on Shipquay Street – you can see the ground floor accomodation under the steps built c. 1760 – 1779


Fanlight: llustration: Emma Kelly
Fanlight: llustration: Emma Kelly


A special treat are the arched fanlight windows above the doors – many houses have lost them but these on London Street, opposite the Cathedral still have theirs.

Georgain doors Of Derry
Georgian doors Of Derry: London Street built c. 1800 – 1819

Some of the doorways are relatively simple, with  plaster or precast concrete or stone surround and steps.

Georgian Doors of Derry, London Street
Georgian Doors of Derry, London Street

Georgian Doors of Derry, London Street

Georgian Doors of Derry, London Street built c. 1800 – 1819

Georgian Doors of Derry, Pump Street
You can see the scale of these Georgian houses on Pump Street

Some of the doors are very grand even if they have fallen in disrepair. This one is in Pump Street. For a city with a housing shortage there is a surprising number of vacant properties in the city.

Georgian Doors of Derry, Pump Street
Georgian Doors of Derry, Pump Street built c. 1820 – 1839 – Old Convent of Mercy


17th century Shipquay Street
17th century Shipquay Street: From John Hume’s “Derry Beyond the Walls”


Green Doors of Derry
Green Doors of Derry


Georgian-style buildings outside the walled city

In the early-Victorian Derry’s economic and population boom went from strength to strength. In 1821, at the time of the first Irish census, Derry had a population of 9,313. It grew rapidly during the 19th century and had reached a population of 40,000 by its end. This population boom resulted a Catholic ghetto outside the city walls in an area that wouls later become known as the Bogside. Its also lead to a more formal expansion of the city with the laying out of new streets along a geometric pattern, to the north-west of the walled city. This grid pattern echoed the layout of the streets within the walls.

Map of Derry-Londonderry
Map of Derry-Londonderry

These new streets included Queen Street, Great James Street and Clarendon Street. Although this was the Victorain era, these town houses were built in the Georgian style. A Gazetteer of 1844 noted that there were several “good streets, which contain merchants residences” and the newly built Great James Street which included a Presbyterian meeting house. This new part of town was now deemed “respectable”!

Clarendon Street was street was originally known as Ponsonby Street; named after the Rt. Rev. Richard Ponsonby (1772-1853), Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, however by the 1850s the street had been renamed Clarendon Street in honour of the Fourth Earl of Clarendon, George Villiers (1800-1870), Lord Lieutenant of Ireland between 1847 and 1852. Throughout its history the occupants of Clarendon Street were of the city’s merchant and professional classes. Several grand terraces were built within relatively dense, urban street patterns, many with rear mews and yards accessed by back alleys.

The Red Doors of DerryThe Red Doors of Derry


It should be noted that these fine “gentleman’s” houses were for the Protestant business (largely Presbyterian) community. The Catholic inhabitants of the city were largely confined to the overcrowded Bogside. Many of the worst houses they loved in have gone now. Piecemeal slum clearance was followed by largescale urban redevelopment in the 1960s and 1970s. Some of that development  has gone now too.

The Merchanta House, Quueen street
The Merchants House, Queen Street Photo Credit

A greater degree of ornamentation is found on the gentleman’s houses on Clarendon Street which have a lot of detail on their wooden surrounds, some on Queen Street have inset stone pillars. The impressive nature of these wealthier houses is enhanced by the steps up to the front doors and the decorative railings (see above photo).

Georgian Doorways of DerryGeorgian-Style Doorways of Derry: Great James Street –

Georgain doors Of Derry
Georgian doors Of Derry: Princes Street


The city and its surrounding area is choc-a-block  with heritage and history – both ancient and very recent. It’s what I love about the place; the that fact there is so much history here and that its preserved and commenorated. Derry as it exists today is an interesting hybrid of very old and modern buildings. Ideas about Conservation seem to have evolved slowly. Concerns of the city planners in the early 1970s seem to focused on preserving the character the walled city alone. In 1974 part of the walled city was chosen as one of four schemes for European Architectural Heritage Year and a co-ordinated repainting scheme for London Street was been carried out. However, some old buildings were demolished to build new shopping centres in the walled city.  It is also noticeable that some of the buildings that feature in a report of 1977, namely the Old Convent of Mercy (see photo above) and the more modern Austin’s Department store are both vacant and have fallen into disrepair. It is probably testament to the lack of investment in the city.

In the follow year, 1978, Clarendon Street  was included in to conservation area and many of its buildings were listed and this was  extended in 2006. This has been a great success. Clarendon Street is well-preserved and a thriving business distict; home to many dentists, solictors and other professionals. There are only a few empty properties here. I would argue that more buildings in the Conservation Area should be listed to give legal protect architectural features such as windows frames proportions, wooden doors and pillars their surrounds. There are a few houses in the surrounding streets that have had their door replaced with white PVC doors, with original features lost forever. This piece-meal destruction of the character of this unique part of the city needs to be halted and reversed. The heritage of the city is both vibrant and unique and deserved to be cherished and protected. After all  it is everyone’s favourite type of architecture.

Map of Conservation Area
Map of Conservation Area (Listed buildings in yellow)
The Doors of Derry #3 (1)
The Doors of Derry #3


Buy Prints on here 

Find out More 

Georgian Architecture 

Characteristics of the Georgian Town House

Find out More about  the buildings of Georgian/Victorian era Derry

Historical Map Viewer (for all NI)

Database of Historic Buildings

Conservation in Derry

Stay in Geogrian Derry 

Out of Town – Hampstead Hall, Culmore

Interactive digital map

Books on the History of Derry

Discover Derry, Brian Lacey, 2011

Hume, J., ‘Derry beyond the walls: Social and economic aspects of the growth of Derry 1825-1850’ , 2002.

Brain Mitchell, The Making of Derry: An Economic History, 1992 

T.H. Mullin, Ulster’s Historic City, Derry Londoderry, 1986

The building and rebuilding of Derry


‘City of Derry: An historical gazetteer to the buildings of Londonderry’ Belfast: Ulster Architectural Heritage Society, 2013.

Digitising Demolished Derry: Videogames as Public History

Photographs of Derry now gone

A History of Derry

48 Hour In The Historic Walled City Of Derry ~ Londonderry, Northern Ireland

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Irish Independent Feature (Expanded Version) Part 2

Irish Independent Newspaper Logo
Irish Independent article 22/2/2023
Irish Independent article 22/2/2023


This is the second part of my expanded  Q & A interview with Niall McMonagle of the Sunday Independent.

Read part one here 


This section is more about how I work, my style and influences.

Q: How do you choose your places to paint? And is there a particular time of year that you favour?

A: Light and colour draw me to a subject. I am looking for a strong composition and clean colours. Usually bright light and strong shadows, so any time of year except for summer. I paint large paintings in the long hours of summer instead. Composition is key to my work. I also like to express the quiet like various American realists like Edward Hopper. I also love Rockwell Kent, a painter who also painted west Donegal.

Q: Do you work en plein air? From sketches? Photographs?

A: I tried painting en plein air in South Wales – I was crippled by feeling self-conscious and frustrated by my lack of control over the conditions. Plein air is also not conducive to my style of painting, and what I am trying to achieve in my work; in the magnification of simplicity, form, light and shadow. I am continually painting layers over a period of time. My creative process starts with taking the photo, editing and then using it for inspiration. I try to recreate the essence of a place I am painting rather than simply reproducing a scene.  I am very much influenced by the photography of Henri Cartier-Bresson and how he used composition to create dynamic images.

Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004) Munster, County Kerry, Ireland, 1952
Henri Cartier-Bresson, County Kerry, Ireland, 1952


Q: You now live in Derry and Donegal. How did that come about?

A: We wanted to have a combination or urban and rural so that we could experience both, so we live 7/8 months of the year in Derry and 4/5 months in Donegal. The Derry/Donegal combo is hard to beat. Derry also opens up another area of east Donegal, Inishowen, as it is only a few miles away from Derry city.

Q: Your work features on a Donal Ryan Spanish version of Strange Flowers [‘Cottage on Bunbeg Harbour’] and Claire Keegan’s Foster [‘The Traditional House. Gola’]. Congratulations. Has that made a difference?

Donal Ryan's "Strange Flowers" (Flores extranses).
Donal Ryan’s “Strange Flowers” (Flores extranses).

A: It has been great to get recognition from two such brilliant writers. I feel greatly honoured. I knew that when I moved from South Wales to Ireland that I was likely to lose collectors (although I still paint the Gower Peninsula in South Wales and Tenby from time to time) and it would take time to build up an Irish following.
I am hoping these book covers will help with that, plus this feature.

Cover of Claire Keegan's "Foster"
Cover of Claire Keegan’s “Foster”


Q: How did the dreaded Covid affect you and your work?

A: I broke my leg at the start of the pandemic and was awaiting an operation in Morriston Hospital, near Swansea as the country went into lockdown. So whilst most were confined to their houses I was confined to my bedroom for several months and had to do physiotherapy down the phone. I took months to recover and regain my mobility and make it up the steep stairs into my attic studio.

Emma Cownie Artist
Painting in the studio with my leg up!


Artists live very solitary lives so lockdown wasn’t a massive change to my life, as such. I was frustrated that I couldn’t  visit locations to take photos for new paintings so I spent months scouring through the photos I did have. I was surprised at how many photos I had discounted could be made into interesting pictures.

Covid has definitely affected our life here – I feel frustrated that we are living at arms’ length from everyone. It has meant that we have limited where we go and what we do. My husband  is asthmatic, so we are very careful. We got vaccinated and boosted and always wear masks indoor but we were still very ill this summer. It knocked us both out for 6 weeks. I don’t want to catch it again because we don’t know what the long term effects will be.

Q: In terms of your palette what colours are essential?

A: It depend where I am painting and whether I am using oils or acrylics. The light in South Wales is more yellowy, in Donegal it is clearer and bluey-white. Our house in Derry is smaller than our Donegal house so I had to learn to paint with acrylics because of the fumes and having pets at close quarters.

Acrylics are very different to oils as you have to build them up in thin layers. They dry fast and are difficult to blend. Oils are more opaque but much slower to dry. I have to think about each medium in a different way and use different colours. With both oil and acrylics I prefer underlying warm colours (oranges, ochres, pinks and mauves) but I have to use different colours to get a similar same effect in each. With oils I would use Naples Yellow, Yellow ochre, Olive Green, Raw and Burnt Umber, Raw Sienna, Van Dyke Brown, Warm Grey, and Cool Grey, Mauve and for the sea and sky Ultramarine and Phthalo Blues.

With acrylics I would use Lemon Yellow, Ivory, Light Ochre, Sap Green, Cerulean Blue and Ultramarine blue, pink and purple, Payne’s grey for darker tones. I use more mixing white and fluid medium in acrylic. I have had to train myself to mix large quantities of “sky” colour and keep in a tub with acrylic. There’s this thing called “colour shift” which means the paint dries lighter. So it’s almost impossible to match wet acrylics to the dry colour you want to achieve. The irony is that I think that although I prefer painting in oils, I think my acrylic paintings might actually be better.

Q: The painting reproduced in the Sunday Independent on 15 January is ‘Down to the Pier, Gola’. Would you say something please about your links with, your relationship with, Donegal in general and Gola in particular.

Down to the Pier, Gola_Emma Cownie
Down to the Pier, Gola (Donegal, Ireland)


A: I love the Donegal islands – they are a glimpse of a vanishing Ireland. Gola and Inishbofin are wonderful locations, in particular, although the one I most visit and have painted most is Arranmore.

I went to Gola island because of the space as I thought it would suit my “rural minimal” style of painting which proved to be the case. They have very few vehicles and I really enjoy the peace. Isn’t that why we like the coast – with just the sound of the waves and the wind? How the houses were placed, in this vastness lent itself to composition. The islands, more than any other place I have been to, chime most with my style of painting. They have moved my style forward. Also I really like the fact that there are almost no telegraph poles to complicate compositions too.

The way the vernacular houses are arranged, sheltering from upland areas of the island, and close together suggests how people of the past worked together and with the landscape. I think I am attracted to the sense of community. People had to work together in order to survive. A sense of community, interconnectedness, of Irishness, lingers there. It is tangible.

Q: Also re ‘Down to the Pier, Gola’ how quickly does your eye know and choose the perspective and the composition of the piece? And would you say something please about how you went about making this work? Did you begin with a drawing? What colour did you put down first etc.

A:  Composition is key. The cinematic-type compositions and dramatic use of light and shade. As I said before I am strongly influenced by the French photograph Henri Cartier Bresson and I often look for a road or fence posts to lead the eye into the painting.

Rule of Thirds - Henri Cartier Bresson
Rule of Thirds – Henri Cartier Bresson


Elements will also be left out or simplified to give the image more punch. Most of the Gola and Inishbofin paintings are painted in my own “rural minimal” style which is the rural manifestation of the “urban minimal” style I developed to paint the city with. This style of painting is influenced by those American realist painters who paint the quiet, the spacious and the still and revere a certain treatment of light and colour such as Edward Hopper as well as by Contemporary Minimalists such Jessica Brilli, (whom I traded paintings with last  year). The rules of composition are strong light and shade, use of diagonals and simplified forms. I wanted to explore the interplay of the geometry of shadows and structures – the tension between the 3D buildings and the 2D shadows. I wasn’t sure if this style would work in the countryside until I went to Gola and found it was perfect for evoking the silence and the stillness of these beautiful islands.

Painting of houses on Gola, Ireland
Tigh Breslin, Gola – Emma Cownie (SOLD)


“Down to the Pier, Gola” is an oil painting. I sketched the outline of the road and buildings in thin red ochre paint. I painted the white house first. It takes a several layers of paint to create that intensity of the whitewash. I usually use thin layers of paint, but my final layer of white will be thicker. White oil paint takes the longest time to dry, which is why I often start with white. I then added the blue sky and the pink road and distant buildings. I like to work quickly when I paint in oils. I will rub away the paint if I am not happy with a colour. I have learnt to be quite ruthless with rubbing back and starting from the canvas. This way the final piece is lighter and has more coherence. I am wary of over-working the paint.

I use a different approach to painting with acrylics. It is much slower as I usually paint a grayscale (or in earth tones) underpainting to check I have my tonal values right and then I add colour. There is a lot of adjusting of colours and correction that goes on. I will often work on two paintings at a time so that I can add sky, sea and use the same colours and let them dry so I can consider the colours and how they are coming together. Acrylic paintings can take up to a couple of weeks, on and off, to complete.

Q: What do you look for in a painting? And do you have a favourite painting by another artist that means a great deal to you?

A: Often I am drawn to the light – a shaft of sunlight on a window sill or a strong shadow by a house. Often times it will be a particular colour – such as the blue of clear seas of Donegal or the pale fluffy clouds.

Robert Bevan Maples at Cuckfield, Sussex 1914 National Museum of Wales, Cardiff Photo © National Museum of Wales
Robert Bevan Maples at Cuckfield, Sussex 1914,  National Museum of Wales, Cardiff
Photo © National Museum of Wales


Robert Bevan’s “Maples at Cuckfield, Sussex” (painted in 1914) is very special to me as it was a complete surprise when I came across it at Cardiff Museum in 2012. A good painting makes me to go home and paint. I used to feel that way about the Van Gogh’s and Monet.

I just loved the muted colours with the light orange and purples and the semi abstract trees. Bevan had spent time in Paris at Pont Aven in Brittany. He met Cezanne and Renoir was friends with Gauguin. I went back the follow year to see it again and was disappointed to find it wasn’t on display. The museum was kind enough, however, to let me and my husband go down to storage to see it close up.

Q: You have sold many many paintings. Are you sorry to see them go? Has there ever been one that you just did not want to part with?

A: I have had to toughen up a lot about parting with paintings. My sister’s advice was “paint so many you are sick of the sight of them”. It did work but some paintings really are tough to let go of. I really regret selling a painting of a horse “Blaze” and another of a elderly lady carrying her shopping in Swansea town centre, called  “Soldiering On”. I have learnt my lesson and I have a handful of paintings that I won’t ever put up for sale – one is of a Gower pony, another is of a cat that used to hang out at the local general store in Swansea.

Painting of Swansea old lady On
Soldiering On, Emma Cownie


Q: If you would like me to include your website, instagram, upcoming exhibition etc please give them here.

A:  I haven’t exhibited in recent years in galleries by choice and I sell the majority of my work via my website although I have a private art gallery behind my cottage in Donegal which is usually open, by appointment, May – October.


@emma_cownie_artist on instagram

Website –


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Recent work (of Derry and Donegal)

Recent work - Emma Cownie

We are about to decamp to Donegal for the summer/early autumn. I have mixed feeling about returning to oil paints. It’s been a quite a steep learning curve getting comfortable with acrylic paint but I feel like I finally got there. I am not sure what it will be like to paint in oils again; oh the the joy of easy blending! I am looking forward to being able to paint larger canvases. I will continue my practice of laying down an underpainting in grey-scale paint, regardless.

Here are some of my recent acrylic paintings, mostly of Inishowen Penisula (Donegal)

Kinnagoe Beach - Emma Cownie
Kinnagoe Beach – Emma Cownie
Down to the Rusty Nail, Inishowen_Emma Cownie
Down to the Rusty Nail, Inishowen_Emma Cownie
a painting of Fanad Head and lighthouse
Fanad (SOLD)
On the Way to Kinnagoe Bay (Drumaweer, Greencastle)
On the Way to Kinnagoe Bay (Drumaweer, Greencastle) (SOLD)
painting of Doagh Strand, donegal_Emma Cownie
Down to Doagh Strand, Donegal

Painting of Lambing season at Fanad Head (Donegal)

Lambing season at Fanad Head (Donegal)

Carrickabraghy Castle, Inishowen
Carrickabraghy Castle, Inishowen
Acrylic painting of Portmór Beach, Malin Head, Donegal
Portmór Beach, Malin Head, Donegal


Also of Derry city – what a great little city.

The Walls of Derry painting by Emma Cownie
The Walls of Derry


The Sperrinspainting Upper Dreen_Emma Cownie

Upper Dreen_Emma Cownie

And finally a few also of my favourite, Gola Island.

painting of house On Gola (Donegal)
Still, On Gola (Donegal)
The Turn in the Road, Gola - Emma Cownie
The Turn in the Road, Gola – Emma Cownie
A Sandy Road Through Gola-Emma Cownie
A Sandy Road Through Gola-Emma Cownie

The weather forecast is for cool weather, so I will be packing some light jumpers. I have found, however, that forecasts are pretty unreliable for Donegal so it could be very pleasant. I am looking forward to the sweet breezes!



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The Walled City

The Walled City (of Derry)

What’s in a name? It’s complicated

The name of the city I am living in right now is contentious.

It’s official name is Londonderry but no one here seems to call it that, not even the council. Most people in the city itself, Protestants as well as Catholics, call it Derry. This suggests it is more of a contentious issue outside the city that in it. In 1984 the council changed its name council changed its name from Londonderry City Council to Derry City Council. 

Generally, nationalists/Republicans/Catholics/the council and locals favour using the name Derry, whereas, wider afield, unionists/Loyalists/Protestants use Londonderry. Derry is also in the County of Derry or, as it is known offically, and mainly by Protestants, Co. Londonderry.

A suggested compromise dual naming of “Derry/Londonderry” (read “Derry stroke Londonderry”) has given rise to the jokey nickname “Stroke City”, as popularised by the local  radio and television broadcaster, Gerry Anderson. When the city was made UK City of Culture for 2013 and the organising committee’s official logo read “Derry~Londonderry”.  Another attempt to circumvent controversy is to call it “L’derry” or “L-Derry.

Walled City Sign Derry
Walled City Sign


You will also see the city refered to as “The Walled City” or “The Maiden City”.


Walled City
From the website


This last name alludes to the city’s having resisted capture in the siege of 1689.  The walls were never breached.

The closer you get to the city the more likely roadsigns for Londonderry will be “altered”.  There have been requests by a local politician to have signs which have include both Derry and Londonderry, but they have so far gone unheeded.

An exmaple of a graffitied sign post (Strabane)
An exmaple of a graffitied sign post (This one is near Strabane)


The opening credits from Channel 4’s Comedy popular show Derry Girls, which is set in Derry in the 1990s before the Peace Process and the Good Friday Agreement, starts with a “Welcome to Londonderry” sign being graffitied as an army patrol passes by. The city walls also feature at the start of the first episode. You can see it in this Youtube clip here.

The local council, Derry City, however, is at great pains to be inclusive. In a recent film about the city’s History and Heritage they labelled it “Everyone’s City”.

Just as an aside, there are many towns and cities around the world called Derry (10) and Londonderry (9). In New Hamphire, USA, both a Londonderry and Derry next to each other.

So where did the two names come from? You might assume that Derry is just a shortened form of Londonderry but that is not so. The name Derry existed long before that of Londonderry (and for much longer).  The name of the settlement on the banks of the River Foyle, was originally called Doire from Daire Calgaich (oakwood or oak grove of Calgach) where a christian monastery was founded  by St Columba in the 6th century.

This actually is one of the longest continuously inhabited places in Ireland.

This oak grove was located on a small hill which was formerly an island in the River Foyle. The river which flowed past the western side of that island gradually dried out leaving a marshy, boggy area. In time this area became known as the Bogside (for more on the Bogside see here).

Early map showing the River Foyle flowing around the island of Derry and creating the Bog to the west of the walled city.
Early map showing the River Foyle flowing around the island of Derry and creating the Bog to the west of the walled city (from the Museum of Free Derry website.)


By the 11th century it was known as Daire Coluimb Chille (oakwood of Columba). In late Medieval times the name had been shortened to just Doire, and was later anglicised to Derry. (You can read about Derry’s  Medieval History here). In 1604, the fortified settlement of “Derrie”, had recently been taken over by the English,  was granted its first royal charter as a city and county corporate by James I of England.

So that seems pretty straight forward.

Well, no.

At the start of the 17th century this settlement was partly destroyed by the Irish and then rebuilt by English and Scottish settlers as part of the James’s Protestant plantation (or conquest) of Ulster.

This was organised by The Irish Society, a consortium of the livery companies of the City of London. They built massive stone and earthen fortifications around their new city. It was the last walled city built in Ireland and the only city on the island whose ancient walls survive  to this day.

In recognition of the London investors, an 1613 charter stated “that the said city or town of Derry, for ever hereafter be and shall be named and called the city of Londonderry”.

Thus, the walled city  of Londonderry was mainly a creation of the Protestant plantation. The name itself Londonderry, in the eyes of some, Catholics mainly,  represents English (and British) Imperialism.

The walls, remarkably, are still owned by The Honourable The Irish Society. They put the walls into formal government guardianship in 1955. This means that the state looks after the walls but doesn’t own them. 

Map of the city walls from

Map of Derry city walls from

Derry’s walls are a massively popular tourist attraction. In 2019,  466,000 people took the mile-long walkway around the inner city. The walls are massive and in excellent condition. The greenish grey stone, is called Derry Schist, and it came from local quarries to the South West of the city on the far side of the River Foyle from a place called Prehen.

Map of Derry
Map of Derry and regions from Wikipedia by OpenStreetMap


Map of Derry
Map of the Walled City in C17th from


The walls are just under a mile in length and they varies in width from between 12 and to 35 feet. I am still learning the names of the gates and streets of the city. When it was first built, there were four gates – Bishop’s Gate, Ferryquay Gate, Shipquay Gate and Butcher Gate. These were later rebuilt and additional gates cut into the walls – Magazine Gate, Castle Gate and New Gate (you can read more about the gates here).  It’s a relatively easy walk to do for a fit and abled bodied person.

The Wall near Magazine Street, photogrpahy by Emma Cownie
The Wall near Magazine Street, photogrpahy by Emma Cownie


Painting of houses besides the walls of Derry
Derry Walls –  acrylic painting by Emma Cownie


The walkway along the top of the walk is paved and wide, although it does underdulate in places.This is  especially true where gates were later inserted into the walls. The main problem for those with mobility issues would be the steps up to the walls and some sections on the west end have a lot of steps along the top, but the good news is that there are two sections of the walls that have ramped, step-free access, so sections of the wall are accessible, just not all of it. I have seen many families with prams on sections of the walls.
Map of the Walled City taken from
Steps over Bishop Gate: Photogrpahy by Emma Cownie
Steps over Bishop Gate: Photography by Emma Cownie


The walled City, photography by Emma Cownie
The walled City (and pigeons), photography by Emma Cownie

It took me over an hour and a half to walk a complete ciruit.It should be borne in mind that I was meandering at a snail’s space, taking photos and enjoying the view.

On day trips to Derry, in the past I have just walked along the section near the Foyleside Shopping Centre and the big Primarks, rather than doing the whole loop.

There are some great views:

View to the north from the city walls, photogrpahy by Emma Cownie
View to the north from the city walls, photography by Emma Cownie


Wall near Ferryquay Gate: photogrpahy Emma Cownie

Wall near Ferryquay Gate: photography by Emma Cownie

The Guildhall, Derry
Magazine Gate and the Guildhall, Derry, photography by Emma Cownie


Derry is famous for its murals (here’s a pictorial tour of some of them here). So, it is very appropriate that Channel 4 commissioned a mural of the Derry Girls right next to the walls.

Derry Girls Mural, seen from the city walls, photogrpahy by Emma Cownie
Derry Girls Mural, seen from the city walls, photography by Emma Cownie


It’s an incredible piece of art. They are a tourist attraction in thei own right. Lots of people pose in front of the mural!

Emma Cownie and the Derry Girls
Me and the Derry Girls Mural last year: photography by James Henry Johnston


Shipquay Gate by Emma Cownie
Shipquay Gate acrylic painting by Emma Cownie

Find out more about the History of Derry and its walls:

A short tourist information leaflet for Derry city walls (click on the text)

See a digital Map of Derry-Londonderry c.1831 here

Visit Derry Tourism website – including 1 and 2 day vistor passes to 11 attractions here 

How the Derry Walls came about

You can do a virtual tours of the walls here:-

Pocket History of Londonderry


Foot Note – Style guides for referring to Derry/Londonderry (taken from wikipedia)

Australian Broadcasting Corporation: Londonderry, Derry: In news stories, first reference for city and county: Londonderry. Second and subsequent, if you like: Derry.

BBC News “The city and county are Londonderry. The city should be given the full name at first reference, but Derry can be used later.” Account may be taken for the context.

The Economist Derry/Londonderry (use in this full dual form at least on first mention; afterwards, plain Derry will do) Londonderry (Derry also permissible).

The Guardian and The Observer: Londonderry: use Derry and County Derry.

The Times Londonderry, but Derry City Council;  and Derry when in direct quotes or in a specifically republican context (this latter rarely)

Ulster University The style guide, updated in 2015, states: Derry~Londonderry is the official name of the city and is the preferred form of use for the University in all written materials. Where it is not practical to use the Derry~Londonderry form, e.g. on social media posts or in media interviews, a limited number of variations may be used. “County Londonderry” is used in giving the address of the campuses in Coleraine and in Derry city. The university’s 2012–2015 guide specified “Derry~Londonderry” for both city and county, except “Londonderry” for each in the addresses of its campuses. The 2010–2012 guide cited the BBC guidelines. The nicknames “Maiden City” and “Stroke City” were specifically prohibited.

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Illuminate Festival, Derry

Illuminate Festival Derry

We have now moved to our permanent home in Derry. We will return to Donegal when it is warmer.

The winter weather wasn’t the problem as such, as I enjoyed the storms and changeable skies. It was living in a draughty cottage without central heating, just storage heaters and a wood burning stove.  We were living on biscuits to keep us warm! The cats and dog just LOVE the radiators in our house in Derry. So do we.

We also love exploring the Historical City of Derry.

The ‘Illuminate’ festival is running over two weekends in Derry, 17th – 20th and 24th – 27th February, from 6pm – 9pm. We visited it on Thursday night. It was very cold (double socks and thermals weather) but mostly dry. This was important was all the sites we visited were out of doors.

We followed a “magical illuminated trail” which told the story of the city. At each of the locations were live projection shows, cast upon the wall and facades of the ancient buildings. They were accompanied by soundtracks, music, singing and narration. They were very affecting at times.  It might have helped if we had taken the map below with us because we started at the Guildhall, which I think is towards the end of the series of six sites. It didn’t matter too much, as we looped around and visited it a second time. We also missed a couple of sites and will have to go back to see them.

Map of Live Projection Shows
Map of Live Projection Shows


The route along the 400-year old city walls is about 1.5km long but can be walked at a leisurely pace, and there is plenty of time between each light show.  These were a mix of audio-visual, digital media and outdoor projections. On Thursday night there were lots of families with small children  with prams (although many toddlers ended up  riding piggy-back style on dads’ shoulders)  and dogs on leads.

Illuminate Derry 2022
Illuminate Derry 2022 – outside the walls, the monastic legend Colmcille and his followers


Illuminate Derry 2022 - on the walls of the city
Illuminate Derry 2022 – on top of the wall looking out towards St Eugune’s Cathedral


Illuminate Derry 2022
Illuminate Derry 2022 – St Columb’s Cathedral


Here’s a flavour of one of the Projection shows – in two parts.  Seamas filmed it and wouldlike me to explain the wobbly camera work at the beginning is because Biddy our dog was pulling on the lead. The barking along to Amazing Grace in the second clip, also thanks to Biddy! I had to take her on a quick walk at this point.

Illuminate Derry 2022
Illuminate Derry 2022 – History of the Civil Rights movement and the pathway to peace


Illuminate Derry 2022
Illuminate Derry 2022 – The Guildhall


Illuminate stilted people
Illuminated stilted people

There are also a numbers of intimiate music gigs (read more here) and street performers. I never thought I would have been so pleased to see fire jugglers as on a cold February night in Derry!

All in all, it was a brillant introduction to Derry, its History, people and its creativity. We thoroughly enjoyed the experience and even better, its running next weekend too so we can do it all over again. Oh, and I forgot to mention. The Live Projection shows and The Sound and Light Trail are free too.

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